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The Markets This Week

October 7, 2014 | Weekly Commentary

It was a bad week—but it could have been worse. Stocks ended down less than 1% from the previous Friday’s close, but at one point on Thursday the major indexes were down 3% to 4% from all-time highs. The Russell 2000 small cap index entered correction territory—traditionally defined as 10% or more down from highs—but then recovered some.

A confluence of soft global economic data, some in the U.S.; protests in Hong Kong; and the first confirmed American case of Ebola made investors uneasy with a bull market that is now one of the longest in duration, at 4½ years.

Stocks were at weekly lows just prior to noon Thursday, when investors came storming back into equities, almost as if a switch had been flipped. No single cause seems identifiable, but, given how short-lived and narrow past drops have been in this long bull run, the buy-on-the-dips reflex appears to have been triggered. Volatility isn’t likely to ease, however, until after the U.S. midterm elections next month.

Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 103 points, or 0.6%, to 17,009.69, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 15, or 0.75%, to 1967.90. The Nasdaq Composite index gave up 37, or 0.8%, to 4475.62. The Russell 2000 fell 1.3% to 1104.74.

With the market not far from all-time highs achieved just two weeks ago, the generally bad spate of global news got on investors’ nerves, says Ralph Fogel, head of investment strategy at Fogel Neale. “People started to say ‘We have to take some money off the table here,’ ” he adds.

U.S. economic data released at the start of the week were soft, but Friday the Labor Department said the U.S. added 248,000 new jobs in September, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.9% from 6.1% in August, better than expected.

Domestic economic numbers are good, “but never seem to be as steady as you’d like,” says John Wilson, founder and publisher of ReveilleLetter.com. A generally bullish Wilson expects more volatility in the run-up to U.S. elections next month, and, he adds, “Ebola is clearly a worry.”

The sloppy economic data, Hong Kong unrest, and European economic weakness remain a concern for the near term, adds Jim Russell, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. However, with bond prices stretched and commodities down, U.S. stocks still look like the best asset class, he says. Somehow, that “buy-on-weakness” mentality was sparked Thursday, he adds.

Investors are tiring of waiting for the correction. “I’d like to see a good demoralizing selloff that stretches the market’s technical indicators, brings out some investor capitulation and gives bears renewed hope,” says Wilson.

The third-quarter earnings season will kick off this week, and analysts anticipate companies in the S&P 500 index to post earnings per share growth of 4.6%, with revenue growth of 3.6%, according to FactSet Research.

There haven’t been four consecutive down days for the S&P 500 in 2014, according to Mike O’Rourke, chief market strategist at Jones Trading. Last year, when the index rose 30%, there were four such stretches. That’s a testament to the strength of this bull.

(Source: Barrons Online)

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